Dec 31, 2018

Best electronic albums of 2018: one

1 –Rezzett – Rezzett (The Trilogy Tapes)

London duo Rezzett have been parping out sounds on The Trilogy Tapes for a few years, but this is the first time they've done the full toot and produced an album.

They were on the edge of my radar along with other double-z bands like ZZ Top, Yazz and We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It. But with this self-titled Rezzett album they land squarely in my sights. Distorted tech noise and rusty ambience? Yes please, thank you Mrs Music. (Not a real person.)

Rezzett is fuzzy, like an unshaven face or a neglected slice of bread. It's frequencies leak into areas they shouldn't, like a naughty paddling pool. It sounds off, like these similes. It's a scuffed-up science-fiction film set, but with Luke Abbott instead of Luke Skywalker: no JJ Abrams CGI lens flare here.

It's techno and ambient and jungle and bass music all at the same time. When you think the album has settled into a pattern, it throws something deeply satisfying at you. Listen to how the skippy snares of Tarang beckon in a chord sequence ripped straight out of a power pop anthem, and yet it all still holds together. It's perfection.

And most of all, it's properly curated. An album with shape, from the faded glows of Hala, to the dirty deconstructed house of Sexzzy Creep, to the whip-sharp junglism of Worst Ever Contender. Way to end an album.

I haven't even started on the cover artwork. Congratulations Rezzett, you slightly anonymous duo, you are my bestest favourite album of 2018.

I've thought of another one: Johnny Hates Jazz. Ooo, and Gazza!

Happy new year to you, dear reader, and I'll see you in 2019 for much more of this complete and utter garbage. If you think I'm brilliant and I deserve paying for this, then treat yourself to a subscription to Electronic Sound magazine where you'll read my monthly column and numerous other words in a different order.

In the meantime, thanks for reading this blog. Here's to its 15th anniversary in 2019. Blogging! In 2019! Who'd have thought!

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: two

2 – Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4 (Warp Records)

In the same way Aphex Twin turned on the tap and flooded us with music, Autechre have been gushing their pipes everywhere. Exai was two hours long, elseq 1–5 was four hours, and here are the NTS Sessions weighing in at eight hours.

There’s Autechre on the ceiling. There’s Autechre on the toaster. There’s Autechre on the cat. There’s Autechre in those hard-to-reach places that you can only really clear with a toothbrush taped to a coat hanger.

This is a month-long radio residency captured in multi-album form. I described this in Electronic Sound a few months ago as “an Ibiza beach bash hosted by daddy longlegs” while noting at how melodic it turned out to be.

More importantly, it’s hella long but remains engaging, each individual idea held within its parameters with masterful knob-twiddling. It's hardly a three-minute pop song, but they've achieved something amazing here. Gush into my ears, Autechre, I’m yours.

No embedded content for this one, I'm afraid. You'll just have to buy the whole lot and hope for the best.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: Bruno Brookes eat your heart out

It's a bit weird writing all these side-bars amid a top 20 countdown. It's a bit like Bruno Brookes wandering off to his knitting circle in the middle of Top Of The Pops.

Anyways, here is the final bunch of electronic noodlers that didn't quite make my final list.

A jazz pianist and a cellist might not be natural territory for techno behemoth R&S, but Djrum’s Portrait With Firewood (R&S Records) produced some bass music on an epic scale. Elysia Crampton found a clattering joy in the balance between found sound and world music on Elysia Crampton (Break World Records). Mark Pritchard’s The Four Worlds (Warp Records) was worth it for the likeable washboard shuffle of Circle Of Fear. And Marquis Hawkes raised the flipping roof on The Marquis Of Hawkes (Houndstooth).

DJ Koze created a deserved fuss with Knock Knock (Pampa), a collection of twitchy house music but not as you know it. I was perhaps less keen on its folky elements. Chris Carter, of Throbbing Gristle repute, managed to funnel several decades of electronic music into the excellent Chemistry Lessons Volume 1 (Mute). Astonishingly, Mr Fingers dropped his first album for 24 years in 2018: Cerebral Hemispheres (Alleviated Records) was as soulfully slick as you'd imagine. HVL’s Ostati (Organic Analogue Records) revived many memories of old raves and armchair techno listening.

German glitchmeister Alva Noto gets his own paragraph. He brought us a minimal masterpiece with Unieqav (Noton) earlier this year, but he didn't stop there. His rare Newcastle live recording Live 2002 (Noton) with Ryoji Ikeda and the late Mika Vainio seemed to have its audience hair-spun with static. Also worth looking into is the architecture-inspired Glass (Noton) with Ryuichi Sakamoto: the pairs last work was The Revenant soundtrack with Leonardo DiCaprio getting jiggy with a bear.

That was the tenth and final lot of also-rans for this 2018 countdown. I'll probably remember something I wanted to include, but forgot – I'll include it in this blank space here: _________________.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: three

3 – Rival Consoles – Persona (Erased Tapes)

I have listened to
the Rival Consoles album
that was on
the Spotify

and which
reminded me of
Jon Hopkins
and Clark

You should listen
Persona is delicious
so sweet
and so warm

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: four

4 – EOD – Named (BBBBBB)

Rephlex Records introduced me to many great things. Bogdan Raczynski. Monolith. Bochum Welt. Salted caramel ice cream. µ-Ziq. The combustion engine. I think I may be getting confused with some of this.

Rephlex also taught me that squiggly was good, and that your brain was meant for dancing. This debut from former Rephlex artist EOD is a must for anyone into Aphexian squiggles.

Really shouldn’t have mentioned the ice cream. I want ice cream now.

The influences on Named are clear. R’ley and ‘sblood Thou Stinkard are Squarepushian in their mayhem and melody. But there’s something solid in this IDM, as testified by the mid-paced Asenath and Blasted Heath. And dig those warm hugs of chords in Wilbur.

Stian Gjevik's work as EOD is as close to the musical heart of this website as you can get in 2018, and thank Bogdan for that.

Do Ben & Jerry’s have an emergency helpline? I’m gasping for a tub.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: getting into the top 20 is a fragile path

Hold on to your monocle: this is going to be a longer-than-usual summary of albums that didn't quite make the final best-of-2018 list. They're all house music, or influenced by house music, or have once been in a house with some house music.

A choir from Hackney added a whole new direction for Simian Mobile Disco on Murmurations (Wichita) which led me to produce an alarmingly introspective review for Electronic Sound magazine ("Life is a fragile path that sometimes leads us to thin places we’d rather avoid"). There was solid house action on Specter’s Built To Last (Sound Signature): extra points for the insistent piano riff on Not New To This. I enjoyed the clean house stylings of Invisibility (Sushitech) from Romanian duo SIT – minimalism with sheen.

Essaie Pas's ominous New Path (DFA Records) was "enough to make you gleefully afraid of your own shadow" (Electronic Sound again). There was a masterclass in shrink-wrapped drum programming on Konduku’s Kıran (Nous'klaer Audio). Russian artist Evgenii Fadeev sounded restless on Litie (Gost Zvuk), turning up those bpms for his AEM Rhythm Cascade persona. And on my notes for Beta Librae's Sanguine Bond (Incienso), I've just got the word "hypnotic". So it must have been hypnotic. Ahem.

I liked rapper’s Galcher Lustwerk’s inconsequential chatter amid the smooth house of 200% Galcher (Lustwerk Music). RAMZi’s Phobiza Vol. 3: Amor Fati (FATi Records) was a heady mix of hazy house music. There was a dark urgency to Neville Watson's house breaks album The Midnight Orchard (Don't Be Afraid). Phew. Is this section over yet? It's going on a bit.

Shinichi Atobe sounded perkier than usual on Heat (DDS), not least in part because of his perfectly ratcheted snares. Underground favourite DJ Bone spilled a load of bright Detroit bangers this year on A Piece Of Beyond (Subject Detroit) – expect the trilogy to complete in 2019. And finally I utterly overlooked SCNTST's Scenes And Sketches From The Lab (Boysnoize Records) despite a previous album of his being in my 2013 top ten. I only just spotted it now. Blast. Maybe I should have been listening to that instead of writing this. Scandal. *drops monocle*

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: five

5 – Skee Mask – Compro (Ilian Tape)

This album has been well covered by better-known top ten lists, so I won’t go into information overload with this one. Also it’s nearly 1am when I’m writing this and I’m tired. Pfffrt.

Compro will be best remembered for its techy rollers, its nu-school breaks, but at its heart is a precision-controlled ambient album. Indeed it’s nearly ten minutes before a proper beat lands, and even then it’s all tickled with twinkles, like that little glint in a hippo’s eye when it wears its first tutu.

50 Euro To Break Boost is a hands-down classic: just the right amount of decay and delay, and a theme of crumbling structures echoed in its falling, shimmering chords. Beautiful.

The fact that this is only at number five in this list just shows the strength on offer this year. Good work, music makers. Nice tutu, hippo. Where did that hippo come from? Crikey, I need some sleep.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: six

6 – Ital Tek – Bodied (Planet Mu)

The opening to Bodied, a track called Adrift, is pure Blade Runner. A city vista. Lights twinkling in the darkness. A craft glides across the sky. The skyscrapers sweep away to the horizon.

And then something terrifying happens. The second track Become Real starts fizzing at the two-minute mark, and the static shock never quite leaves. Something has awakened. This is not a city. This is a creature.

I don’t know what’s possessed Ital Tek, but this is a frightening album, all portent and doom, fully ambient yet as emotionally percussive as all heck. His continued journey away from the dancefloor has produced his best album yet.

The rising sun illuminates the city and the darkness curtains away. The grey buildings show themselves to the new day. This is not Los Angeles 2019. This is Stockport. Dammit. A milk float rear-ends a bollard.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: I still want to smell these, even from far away

It's time for some more also-rans, and there are some big names here. I'm like David with his pea-shooter, and a couple of these are like Goliaths or the Good Samaritan or something, I dunno. Let's get on with it.

Almost making it into the final list was Marie Davidson, whose acclaimed fourth album Working Class Woman (Ninja Tune) had some of the best house tunes of the year –  ‘So Right’ and ‘Work It’ are so sparky (“I want to smell you, even from far away”). felicita’s hej (PC Music) mixed gentle piano with frequency-destroying digitalism: a curious mixture. Gender inequality and the refugee crisis informed the uneasiness on the ethereal club vibes of Deena Abdelwahed’s Khonnar (InFine Music).

Jlin’s Autobiography (Planet Mu), written as a soundtrack to a ballet, sounded more introspective than usual, complete with piano ballad. The twisted electronics of Amnesia Scanner’s Another Life (PAN) put the ‘anger’ into ‘bangerz’. See what I did there? I am such a clever writer. Spiritflesh’s Spiritflesh (No Corner) was an industrial street-fight of gloomy mechanics.

With track titles like Tunnel Stalker and Final Mercy, DJ Richard’s Dies Iræ X erox (Dial Records) was hardly going to be a bundle of laughs, but the lurking EMB-driven beats held their own dark optimism. The weaponised techno of Ancient Methods’ The Jericho Records (Ancient Methods) sounded like it had buried its way out of the earth’s core like some kind of mixing desk-tweaking mole, assuming you could get hardware that could work while encased in soil, which I don't think you can, got to be realistic about these things. *Such* a clever writer.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: seven

7 – Martyn – Voids (Ostgut Ton)

Martyn last appeared in this top ten in 2011, when the only thing we had to worry about was people rioting and tearing our city centres apart.

Since then, something really significant happened. Martyn had a heart-attack. Yet instead of playing chess with a tall boke holding a scythe (ask your grandparents), he made this album.

Voids is shuffling and dark, like a skellington in a closet. The chords on Nya are dour, and the suspended note on World Gate is unnerving. Yes, I said ‘skellington’.

The highlight is Manchester, Martyn’s tribute to drum 'n' bass artist Marcus Intalex: “deep deep down, we’ve lost a big one”. Intalex’s name was encased in Manchester’s modern electronic music history like black pudding in a Manchester egg.

Actually, staying on that theme for a moment… Manchester’s most characterful areas are currently being torn down by developers, in a more corporate reflection of the destruction of 2011.

Progress isn’t wrong: we just need to remember what’s important as things move on. In a personal way, this album is a testament to that.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: eight

8 – Ceephax – Camelot Arcade (Waltzer)

This might be the first time Ceephax has made my top ten. Well, fancy that. Arise, Sir Ceephax, and take your steed, whatever a steed is.

Camelot Arcade is a whole theme park of fun. Thrill to the cheery chords of Trusthouse Forte! Woosh to the acid disco of Life Started Tomorrrow! Smile for the camera at the smooth 4/4 ride of The Green Night!

Like most UK theme parks, there is a tinge of sadness here: there’s less happy acid and more thoughtfulness. He’s allowed the paint to peel in the damp weather, and let the bolts of the safety harnesses rust up a little. It’s a richer experience as a result.

I still don’t know what a steed is. I’m going to ask at the candy floss stall. I’ll meet you at the tea cups in half an hour. Cheers.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: off-grey paste

Here is yet another collection of brand-spanking new audio presents whose batteries ran out before reaching the much-coveted top 20 best electronic albums of 2018. I hope you kept your receipt.

JK Flesh took great delight in pneumatically drilling our brain to an off-grey paste on New Horizon (Electric Deluxe). “This is my extravagant entrance for my show” boldly announced the scuzzed club anthems of Peder Mannerfelt’s Daily Routine (Peder Mannerfelt), a claustrophobic journey into a self-styled temporary psychosis. Demdike Stare’s Passion (Modern Love) was a pulsating patchwork of noise and jungle and nasty breaks.

FORMA’s Semblance (Kranky) gave us some beautifully building arpeggios with a cosmic classical bent, while I held a candle or three for the slow-burning debut album from Bruce, Sonder Somatic (Hessle Audio). Rather less forgiving were the gorgeously grit-teethed beats of Chevel's Always Yours (Different Circles).

Lorn discovered sobriety to produce a wonderfully dark new album Remnant (Wednesday Sound). Objekt moved away from techno for Cocoon Crush (PAN) into a world that seemed equally organic and robotic – it has been compared to Future Sound of London’s Lifeforms, and I can see why. And the post-club fuzz of Anthony Naples’s Take Me With You (Good Morning Tapes) included a beautiful dubby smoker’s version of John Barrys Midnight Cowboy.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: nine

9 – Ross From Friends – Family Portrait (Brainfeeder)

I think if I was to pick a nuclear family off the shelf, as if I was shopping at some kinda trafficking Ikea, I would pick:

(a) a robot child who would do all the washing up and chimney sweeping;
(b) a robot grandad who would puff a pipe all day long and grumble about what’s on telly;
(c) a robot creepy uncle who I would just keep in a corner with his hands where I could see them;
(d) a robot elephant who would—

Hold on, I’m getting sidetracked. What was I doing? Oh yes. The countdown for the bestest electronic albums of 2018.

Ross From Friends digs into his familial history to add heart to his debut album. It’s a wise move that lifts Family Portrait above the glut of usual house music albums.

The Knife sounds like Burial transplanted into a future century. Thank God I’m A Lizard, named after it’s opening bedtime prayer, is a wafer-thin house beat that lifts into heavenly jazz.

He allows vocal sprinkles to humanise the Four Tet-snappiness, whether that’s a soulful song or spoken snippets, and he’s not afraid to let a track break down into introspection.

It’s a grower. Like a robot family equipped with mechanical reproductive organs, let your love for this album multiply over time. And stop thinking about android willies. Stop it.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: ten

10 – Vester Koza – loader mither (Houndstooth)

“This shed business -- it doesn't really matter. The sheds aren't important. A few friends call me Two Sheds and that's all there is to it.”

That, my readers, is a quote from the Monty Python sketch Arthur 'Two Sheds' Jackson, and indeed the creaking sound on arthur two sheds on Vester Koza’s debut album could indeed be a rusted shed door.

There’s also a nod to Squarepusher’s My Red Hot Car in my well crap car – mardy mix. This Cheshire producer isn’t taking things too seriously.

Why top ten? loader mither quickly became go-to ear-food for me, especially the hollow percussion of taped over the courtyard mix: it's got a kind of giddiness that became a personal theme for me in the latter part of this year. The whole album is ear-worm after ear-worm.

“Get your own arts program, you fairy!”

Alright, calm down.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums 2018: this lot can't have their ambient cake and eat it

Here, you word-munching fool, is a selection of ambient albums that didn't make my final list, but I still like-ish them all as if they were my step-children.

If you like dark and rich, check out the chocolate-flaked gateaux of ambience from Gas’s Rausch (Kompakt). Or try a birthday cake instead: ambient artist todos produced an engrossing 10th anniversary mix on Ten Years of A Strangely Isolated Place (A Strangely Isolated Place) that's well worth your attention. Meanwhile, Huerco S iced our ears with plenty of low-fuelled drones on Pendant’s Make Me Know You Sweet (West Mineral Ltd).

I really need to know when to stop with a metaphor. Anyhoo... Brian Eno wrote Music For Installations (UMC) for people ogling sunflowers and melty clocks in art galleries. Meanwhile, house music seemed a key influence on the worldly ambient rhythms of Vakula’s Metaphors (Leleka). Spot the Apocalypse Now moments on Nmesh / Telepath’s ロストエデンへのパス (Dream Catalogue)

Guitar was the driving force by Aussie ambientist Eleventeen Eston on At The Water (Growing Bin Records). I reckon Sarah Davachi’s achingly serene Let Night Come On Bells End The Day (Recital) could be a great going-to-sleep album, but in a good way. Although equally ambient, Grouper’s Grid Of Points (Kranky) was rather more rousing thanks to Liz Harris’s whispery vocals.

If you're following this blog live, we're about to get into the top ten best electronic albums of 2018. Oh come on, show more enthusiasm than that: yawning's just rude.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Dec 30, 2018

Best electronic albums of 2018: eleven

11 – Gábor Lázár – Unfold (The Death of Rave)

Hungarian sound-sculptor Gábor Lázár ambushes rave, throws it into the trunk of his car, drives into space, grabs it by the scruff of its neck and hurls it into another galaxy.

Unfold takes rave's gurn-face and turns into art. Alongside the synthetic electro of Squeeze, there’s strangled rave sirens (Elastic) and drunkenly wandering chord stabs (Repeater), all of which points towards club culture – yet far beyond it too.

It has the overdriven aesthetic of Rustie and Errorsmith, with all the buttons turned up to red, and the minimalism of Lorenzo Senni, with all the buttons turned down to, er, a low-level colour. White? Black? Not brown. Let's not talk about brown again.

Most remarkably, and this has probably not been said before, Gábor Lázár can drive a fricking car into space. Shove that down your submarine pipe, Elon Musk.

If you're following this blog live, that's it for today. I'm going to take a nice rest, then fire up the countdown again at 9am tomorrow, with the top ten best electronic albums of 2018. Yes!

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: twelve

12 – Jon Hopkins – Singularity (Domino)

Jon Hopkins is no stranger to this website. In 2013, he won album of the year. I declared him to have one of the best music tracks of the decade, and I once promised not to torture him.

Considering Singularity can only ever live in the long shadow of its predecessor, the ground-breaking Immunity album, this is an astonishing achievement. Just listen to Everything Connected. Now listen to it again.

Hopkins’ greatest achievement is balancing artistry with crowd-pleasing. Balancing pin-sharp production, as delicate as a snowflake, with fat filters and pyjama-pooping bass.

A bit like me, really. I think of this blog as treading a fine line between snowflakes and pooping. Brown snow. That’s what this blog is. You’re reading brown snow.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: this bit mentions a monkey and belly-dancing

I hope you're enjoying my countdown of the best albums of 2018, and that you're bitterly resenting these constant interruptions of albums that didn't make the final 20.

I missed a couple of old reissues. Smith & Mighty reminded us of how good they were on Ashley Road Sessions 88-94 (Punch Drunk). And following the rerelease of his classic classic ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out of It’, covered elsewhere in these blog posts, Christoph De Babalon’s brought us some drum ‘n’ bass rarities with Exquisite Angst (A Colourful Storm). Listen to that awkward drum loop of Are You Talking To Me? – no wonder Thom Yorke counted himself as a fan of De Babalon’s work.

Now other stuff. The summer vibes were strong in the laid-back Detroit cuts of Jay Daniel’s Tala (Watusi High), while I enjoyed the wonky jazz of Palanquin Bearing Monkey on Yoshinori Hayashi’s Ambivalence (Smalltown Supersound). Ooo yes, and I can't forget the mystical ritualism of Aisha Devi's DNA Feelings (Houndstooth) – a strange but fascinating listen.

Also not quite making the cut were the belly-dancing beats of TSVI’s Inner Worlds (Nervous Horizon), which mixed Sufi percussion with grubby grime rhythms. Finally for this section, the caustic sound of Renick Bell’s Turning Points (Seagrave) led the charge for code-based algorave, while Tadd ‘Dabrye’ Mullinix had the entire history of rave on his mind when making X-Altera’s X-Altera (Ghostly International), throwing a lot of jungle and techno at the wall, making the wall sound really good.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: thirteen

13 – Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of (Warp Records)

I once got trapped in a hotel fire exit staircase, with no way back into the main building. I was late for breakfast, and from that point I was the trapped-in-a-staircase guy.

Aside from the fire safety concerns of a chain hotel using locked doors in a chuffing fire escape, that serves as a neat metaphor for Oneohtrix Point Never’s music. It’s difficult to get into because our mental doors are locked: we are trapped in the staircases of our usual music taste, and sometimes we need to smash through the doors of perception and smell Oneohtrix’s fire.

Alright, the metaphor didn’t work. But what does work is Age Of’s bewildering collage of baroque, ballads and black magic ambience. Its ever-morphing sculptures are a treat.

Don’t look for songs. Don’t look for structure. Just let it fill you up, like smoke from an encroaching blaze. Jeez, step away from that metaphor, staircase guy.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: fourteen

14 – Daniel Avery – Song For Alpha (Phantasy Sound)

Daniel Avery makes his music in a shipping container next to the Thames river. It’s a bit like series two of The Wire, but less unionised. Ah. The Wire. I really must watch that again.

Apologies – I’m getting nostalgic. Which is kinda relevant, because Avery’s second album Song For Alpha evokes classic Aphex Twin and the early days of 1990s dub techno.

The undulating acid of Stereo L or the smoky ambience of Citizen // Nowhere takes me straight back to Rephlex or Beyond or Rising High Records – but with a modern twist because every track here is powerful enough to flatten a dancefloor.

Whether Avery is smuggling drugs under the noses of the port police while failing to control his ambitious yet volatile drop-out son is unconfirmed. That was a Wire reference, by the way.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: unsafe in the hands of Fat Roland

Time to shoot some more sonic ducks off the funfair wall of sound. Here is another selection of the many albums that didn't make the final top 20 – there are some big names here.

Warp Records' longest-serving act Nightmares On Wax returned with Shape The Future (Warp Records) for a mainstream take on trip hop spiritualism. Jeff Mills turned in a murder-thriller soundtrack on And Then There Was Light (Axis Records), giving us everything from Detroitian stomping to plaintive Rhodes. And considering its experimentalism, there were plenty of little hooks on Yves Tumor’s Safe In The Hands Of Love (Warp Records).

Leon Vynehall finally cracked open a debut album with Nothing Is Still (Ninja Tune), a fascinating ambient reflection on his grandparents. The 81-year-old Jon Hassell evoked strange technological spaces on Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (Ndeya). And there was never a dull moment on the box of tricks that was Syclops’s Pink Eye (Bubble Tease Communications) with its pick-and-mix attitude to dance music genres.

If you want something more robust, try these three. Blawan produced club thumpers with bite on Wet Will Always Dry (TERNESC). Grime has never sounded so glistening as on Wen’s EPHEM:ERA (Big Dada). And Helena Hauff was as downright dirty, as ever, on Qualm (Ninja Tune) – no, that’s not your speakers distorting.

I hope you like these little side-visits as I count down the top 20 best electronic albums of 2018. Don't worry, we'll be back on the main tour bus shortly.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: fifteen

15 – Rejoicer – Energy Dreams (Stones Throw)

In a year in which every news alert felt like shoving your face into a blender, this debut Stones Throw album from Israel’s Yuvi Havkin is a sound for sore ears.

Rejoicer makes blissed-out beats that seem to stretch out across time. Shuffling rhythms, shimmering keys, languid orchestration. There’s proper instruments. People are playing things. Actual things.

This album made me feel refined. It made me want to wear a cravat and a pair of spats. Walk down the street with my head held high, saying how-do to gentlemen and dalmations.

I didn’t do that. I’m writing this in my pants, snorting some black crumbs I scraped from the furnace end of my oven. Don’t judge me. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: sixteen

16 – Orbital – Monsters Exist (ACP)

Fat Roland, why have you buried your favourite band in the mid-teens when surely Orbital’s new album should be number one?

Good question, imaginary interrogator. Nice hat, by the way. On the first few plays, I had Monsters Exist pegged as one of Orbital’s okay-albums, more Blue album than Brown album. Golden Wonder crisps, not Seabrook.

But then saw them play much of this album live and had the skins of my ear-drums flailed by a glorious sonic symphony. Suddenly it all made sense. Hoo Hoo Ha Ha is a bit annoying on record, but in the context of a live set, it’s a killer.

As evidenced by their lively performances of PHUK on YouTube, perhaps this would have been better as a live set. This is a live album at heart, packaged awkwardly as a studio album. A studio album that hoo-haed its way into my ears much better once I’d been on that front rail at the O2 Apollo.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: turn-offs and slow-baked smokers

Pah! Why hang out with the cool kids who made the final top 20 album list, when you could be here in the kitchen with all the losers that didn't make it?

Here is another clutch of almost-rans, headed by an album with highly processed r ‘n’ b vocals, usually a big turn-off for me. Has to be said, though: they worked amazingly on the slow-burning pseudo-grime sounds of Okzharp & Manthe Ribane’s Closer Apart (Hyperdub). On a similar vocal-led tip, I liked Silvia Kastel’s thoughtful “poetry of nothing” on Air Lows (Blackest Ever Black) and I was beguiled by the alienating mechanics and spooooky voices of Lucrecia Dalt unnerving Anticlines (Rvng Intl).

Now, I don't touch drugs these days: although I'm partial to the occasional acid house night, my raving days are long behind me. However, I strongly suspect that if I stepped within 50 feet of Thundercat’s Drank (Brainfeeder), I'd pass out on its slow-baked smokiness. I also lit a nostalgic glow-stick in tribute to the rave vocal samples (“you belong to meee”) and staccato-snared battle cries of RP Boo's I'll Tell You What! (Planet Mu) – he was on brilliantly creative form.

Love poems, YouTube videos and Danish graffiti inspired the wide complexity of Varg’s Nordic Flora Pt. 5: Crush (Posh Isolation). And, if you think about it, failure inspired Soulwax's latest album, because instead of coming up with an Essential Mix for Radio 1, they produced Essential (Deewee) instead. It was rough around the edges, but fun nonetheless. And finally, if sounds were colours, Lotic’s Power (Tri Angle) would be an endless tangle of rainbows as seen through a thousand Insta filters. Wonderful.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: seventeen

17 – S>>D – Co Intel PRO (Central Processing Unit)

I first mentioned the ungooglable S>>D on this site back in 2011, where I described him as dragging breakbeat’s “bleeding corpse across Satan's kitchen floor”.

It’s 2018 and after all this time, he’s barely reached the sandwich toaster – remarkably, Co Intel PRO is Sean Dorris’s debut album. His sound is still as dark as I remember, sitting somewhere between early Autechre and a Boards Of Canada sent to bed without any supper.

That said, it’s superbly melodic in a grumpy Skam Records way – listen to that crunchy chord under the slo-mo scratches of VTOL or the dreamy Global Communication melodic drift of Airlock.

Apparently, the voice muttering in Airlock is a sample from the movie Westworld, Michael Crichton's mash-up of old westerns and science fiction. This is more the latter – science fiction played out by morphined androids under an all-too-blistering distant sun.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: eighteen

18 – Surgeon – Luminosity Device (Dynamic Tension)

Brummie beatsmith Surgeon once recorded an album in the Maui jungle, which can be found by popping across North America then veering left until you get to the middle of the ocean.

Luminosity Device has all the hallmarks of Surgeon: throbbing techno machinery best listened to in a basement club in Glasgow, or under your duvet flashing your torch like a strobe.

And yet, this slow-build of an album takes it cue from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead, a nod to artistry that probably explains the twinkling sparkles of Courage To Face Up To or the haunting vocal chords of The Vibratory Waves Of External Unity.

It’s a dark, dirty yet refreshing addition to this veteran techno-head’s catalogue. And he didn’t even have to plug his Ableton into a banyan tree.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: these sounds are out of bounds

Hey, reader. As the top 20 best albums of 2018 chug on like a happy little tractor, let's pull into this lay-by and have a look at some of the ambient albums that didn't make the list.

It was a stonking year for ambient music, so it's no huge surprise that I'd forgotten The Orb had an album this year. Their 15th long-player No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds (Cooking Vinyl) was a mixed affair, but Pillow Fight @ Shag Mountain had Jah Wobble on bass and saw them at their Blue Room best. Meanwhile, just missing out on a top 20 place was Pariah, who swapped muscular bass music for swirling ambience on Here From Where We Are (Houndstooth) – all twinkling with hope and dignity.

Laurel Halo's Raw Silk Uncut Wood (Latency) boiled down her work to simplistic melodies rolled across a shallow mist of textures, while there was true serenity to be found in Khotin’s Beautiful You (self-released), its pastoral simplicity an ambient highlight of 2018. And there was more than a little twinkle in the, er, album eye of H Takahashi's Low Power (White Paddy Mountain).

Those people that sniff at modern music saying “that’s just noise” clearly haven’t heard Metasplice’s Mirvariates (The Trilogy Tapes), the duo really giving us a lot of different noises. Dronist Tim Hecker employed a Japanese gagaku ensemble for Konoyo (Kranky), not that you’d recognise them when reduced to this level of shredded brokenness. And Ilpo Väisänen, under his moniker as I-LP-ON, paid tribute to his musical partner Mika Vainio on the minimal and statically charged ÄÄNET (Editions Mego): he took sound snippets from an old world tour with Mika and turned them into something remarkable.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: nineteen

19 – Hieroglyphic Being – The Red Notes (Soul Jazz Records)

Meet Jamal Moss, a former gigolo sex-pot who now reserves his tweaking fingers for Linn drum machines and Hammond organs. Hur hur. Organs. Sorry.

Moss is hugely prolific. In the time it has taken you to get to this sentence, he has probably released 92 albums. With such a generous issue, er, um, try that again… With such a generous output, how can anything, ahem, rise to the surface? Oh crumbs.

The answer is: like this. The Red Notes takes Chicago house as its base and spins off into a hypnotic odyssey that is as much techno as it is jazz. Examples: the alternating bass drum of The Seduction Syndrome; the strangled synth solo of The Emotional Listener.

This is wild and free and, yes, sexy. A suitable entry, arf, into Chicago house music for techno virgins. I am so, so sorry.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: twenty

20 – The Prodigy – No Tourists (Take Me To The Hospital)

The other day, I rounded the frozen peas isle in Aldi and a group of 102-year-olds set upon me, zimmer frames bashing my shins, false teeth nibbling my nose.

That didn’t happen, but I would imagine this is what the Prodigy’s seventh album felt like to some people. Surely their temper has been tempered with age?

Liam Howlett originally intended No Tourists to be an EP, but the electronic angst flowed out of him. Just listen to the furious saw lead of Light Up The Sky, or the cheeky f-bomb in Boom Boom Tap.

This is the Prodigy at their naughtiest and freshest, and although we’ll never get the Jilted Generation back, this older generation still has some bite.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: if I'm into it, I'm not into it enough for the top 20

In compiling my top 20, there are lots of albums I have to screw up and throw into the bin. That doesn't mean I don't value them. It's a nice bin, with little frills around the edge.

This count-down will be peppered with little summaries of the dozens of albums that didn't make the final list. That includes compilations and rereleases, which I have excluded for simplicity.

So before we kick off the top 20 proper, here are some also-rans.

There's no space for hardcore getting dirty on the reissued broken breakcore of Christoph De Babalon’s overlooked 1997 album If You're Into It, I'm Out Of It (Cross Fade Enter Tainment) or the experimental South American drumism of Suba’s early-90s work Wayang (Offen Music). Nor did I include Time To Tell (Conspiracy International), a reissue from Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti which was a more interesting album than suggested its inspiration suggests – namely, a lecture at Leeds Polytechnic.

I also didn't include Takecha’s ear-tickling skeletal house retrospective Deep Soundscapes (Love Potion) was a real ear-tickler, the wonderfully familiar IDMisms on the unearthed Challenge Me Foolish (Planet Mu) by µ-Ziq, the messy joy of the superb compilation Don't Mess With Cupid, 'Cause Cupid Ain't Stupid (трип) or the expanded box-set reissue of Move D’s 1995 techno album Kunststoff –  if the name rings a bell, he was on Volume Four of the Trance Europe Express series.

I also tried to keep my list as techno / IDM as possible, because that's what rings my electronic bell. So not much room for hip hop or jazz, with a couple of notable exceptions. And, to my shame, I excluded two classical behemoths. Firstly, Nils Frahm’s All Melody (Warp Records), which was delicate, like a unicorn made of snowflakes, if it was armed with a piano in each hoof. And Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Englabörn & Variations (Deutsche Grammophon), which was overflowing with melancholic elegance like bins wot ain't getting collected until some time after the new year.

Scroll all of the best 2018 electronic albums by clicking here.

Best electronic albums of 2018: an introduction

Don your flashing trousers and grease your moustache with guacamole - it's time for the best electronic albums of 2018!

Other websites and magazines have already published their 2018 retrospectives, including my beloved Electronic Sound. All these so-called "experts" will have "thought" about the year and "listened" again to the best albums to produce "a" considered opin"ion". (Editor's note: can you put those speech marks in the right places? Thanks.)

None of them will have employed the Fat Roland Information Gathering System (FRIGS) for compiling an end-of-year chart. I can't give you details of this spectacularly effective system for legal reasons, but I'm currently surrounded two drones, a magic 8-ball, a blow torch, a signed photo of Trev (not Simon), and 15 colour-coded potties.

Actually, I've secretly put a lot of work into this. You're about to read 30 blog posts, including the top 20 best electronic albums of 2018 according to my excellent opinion, and 10 extra posts telling you what didn't make the cut. They'll appear every half-hour from now until tea-time today, then continue on New Year's Eve. The number one best album of 2018 will be revealed at 4pm on the 31st - it's a corker, and a work that has been woefully overlooked by other lists.

This is the tenth time I have produced this end-of-year list. Happy decade-day, lists. Clark won the first list back in 2009, I seem to remember. Have a look back at all of them here.

Don your guacamole trousers, and flash your greasy moustache. Stand by for the best electronic etc etc what I said earlier (Editor's note: can you please complete this sentence, ffs).

Dec 27, 2018

Che Guevara and Debussy to a


Christmas was good, wasn't it. We all played Ludo and wore novelty trousers and did a jigsaw of a horse. Santa Claus got stuck in the chimney, but it's alright because we fed him mince pies on the end of a broom. I hope your Chrimbo was somewhere between tolerable and alright.

It's now that strange post-Christmas-tree week, a scorched copse of ruined routines and threatening promises. Too much food, too little exercise. Go easy on yourself, chums. It's a dawdle, not a sprint.

Me? I lose myself in little projects at this time of year. Nothing overwhelming - just silly distractions to brighten the bleak midwinter. My current project is my albums of the year list, a predictable yet essential part of this blog which will unfurl here over the next few days.

Watch this space.

Further Fats: Tend the tables, broom the rats out for me (2009)

Further Fats: Fat Roland at Christmas (2015)

Dec 21, 2018

Red for Satan: Orbital wobbling my follicles

Orbital had my follicles shaking last night. All of them. It's the loudest Orbital gig I've experienced for some time - then again, I was right on the front rail in the sonic firing line, so no wonder my hair was buzzing.

It was a particular treat to see Plaid support them, one of the few bands I would rate as highly as the Orbital brothers. Do Matter sounded particularly celebratory. There were a couple of guys near me that were new to Plaid, and I reckon they gained some converts, especially after me banging on about how much I rated them.

Here's a piccie I took of Orbital (above). I can't remember which track it was, but it was probably Satan / Beelzedub. The colour is the clue: red for Satan, orange for Belfast, blue for Halcyon. In fact, here is my earliest memory of Orbital using blue colour washes for Halcyon: I'm in this crowd somewhere.

Further Fats: Why use a long word when a diminutive one will do? (2006)

Further Fats: Some lists containing rhyming Autechre, Orbital in colour, and the entire history of dance music (2009)